Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Open Educational Resources

Read the Educause '7 things you should know about Open Educational Resources'. Summarise the key points in a blog post.

The Educause paper sets out succinctly an explanation of what OER is and some of it’s implications. It is very much focused on the HE sector, so in summarising I will attempt to add some reflections on implications in the school-sector.

OER are defined as resources for little or no cost for teaching, learning or research. I assume ‘low cost’ covers things like a provider charging a small fee for subscribers or members to maintain the library of content rather than to cover the cost of actually producing it. Typically OER materials are digital and the most common method of licensing them is under Creative Commons to support open or nearly open use (eg re-use, modification and how the original author should be credited). 

OER material can be produced at, or published by educational institutions, libraries, government, businesses or individuals. Indeed the key criteria is willingness to share although the motives for doing so will vary. Educause are talking at all times about open in the sense of open to the world, but in a school context, open within a network of schools is still a significant and important development.

People may of course publish material to promote a particular world-view or interpretation.

Materials are released under a license that sets out how it can be altered, attributed and distributed. They will typically be found in collections although that approach may change with time.

Course designers, teachers and of course end-users (learners) can access and use OER. Much OER is modular allowing it to be repurposed, combined applied in various ways. 

In some cases the original author may maintain the OER material, updating it as needed, and as technology opens up new ways of presenting it, or equally the community of users may well continue to adapt, improve and repurpose that original material.

MIT were one of the highest profile early adopters with the OpenCourseWare in 2002 (including roughly 2,000 MIT courses). Many colleges and universities (but a small proportion of the total) now put full sets of course material online. This is not the same as taking the course online – simply allowing people to use the content as they wish.

Educause say that OER material can be vetted and improved by a wider community but this is in part balanced by the greater freedom for individuals and groups to publish. Through recommendation and a distributed selection process better material will become more mainstream but to argue that overall quality will rise is in my opinion facile. OER is well matched to many approaches such as personal learning networks, MOOCs and other Web 2.0 technologies.

OER may well open up content creation to a wider audience by allowing many to create and share in smaller and more focused areas. However it may also depress the value given to content creation (as it is already out there and free) and reduce actual investment at institutional level.

OER can certainly lower the costs for students both by making good material available for free, and by reducing the notional ‘fair cost’ for content through competition.

Not all OER content will be good. Not all OER collections will present and make discoverable content in ways that are useful, but feedback loops will support and promote the good.

Similarly, OER material, like all other, will date. There is not the same impetus for an organisation to maintain freely published material – they can either allow their users to do the updating for them, or themselves use more recently published OER material from elsewhere. 

Selecting, repurposing and integrating together OER material requires high levels of knowledge and some skill. Assuming intellectual property and copyright concerns are addressed, the institution still needs to invest in a workforce able to create and use OER material.

Inevitably, organisations with a vested interest in educational content (universities and publishers) will seek to provide credibility to OER resources and collections, moderate them and add value to them. Whilst the development could be said to be disruptive, it isn’t a simple case of the users taking control of the means of publication and sweeping away the old system.

Educause describe a (radical) viewpoint in which OER allows learners the capability to construct their own course of study. I think it’s an interesting but perhaps flawed idea.

Another scenario is less disruptive where existing models continue enhanced by and integrated with OER. 

For schools there will a number of issues to consider in either using or sharing OER.  People like Josie Fraser (also a leader in the DigiLit project) have written at length supporting OER in the schools sector (see this guidance document for example) but it isn't something that makes the headlines - indeed the prevalent model is much more about closed educational resources - where a group of schools produce a strong set of materials based on what has been reviewed as best practice (usually post OfSTED inspection) as a lever to raise standards in the subject within the network as a whole. I think it would be wrong to criticise schools for following that route as the business of writing material and then putting it together as a complete course, is not the same as the one set out in the OER movement.
  • A school or group of schools will need to have considered rights and licensing, and the ownership of staff over materials they produce.
  • In many subjects the provenance and credibility of material needs to be carefully examined and a good QA process put in place to manage it
    • Where learners find their own material they need the digital literacy skills to spot material that is slanted or intended to push a particular view and take account of that
    • Departments need to be able to review material and make sure that what is being used represents the best possible selection
    • Institutions need to ensure they are compliant and staff need the digital literacy skills to understand the licenses for the material they are using

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